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Review of The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, a novel by Rebecca Miller
I am reviewing the hardback version of this novel, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2008. ISBN 9780374237424, 240 pages, Genre:-modern Fiction, cover price £18.99.
I obtained my copy from my book swapping group and chose the novel on the amusing front cover and the lively synopsis.
The novel is available on amazon for the following prices. Hardcover, new £18.04, used from 0.01p. Paperback, £6.29, used from 0.01p. Kindle edition, £5.69. CD Audiobook new, £20.21, used £11.17.
An audio download version is also on offer at £11.07.
Set in America, Pippa Lee is a fifty one year old married woman. Her husband, Herb, is much older than Pippa; he is in his eighties and a very successful literary agent.
The couple have just moved into a retirement village, having decided to downsize, they have sold up their sumptuous New York apartment, their holiday homes and taken a newly built property on the Marigold Village Retirement complex. Other residents are much older than Pippa, and although nice enough people, their wealthy backgrounds and charming hospitality does not make up for the fact that Pippa feels the outsider of the community.
Herb is still working several days a week; he has a very efficient secretary who handles most of his work when he is not at the office, but Pippa is concerned as he is an elderly gentleman and does not have particularly good health.
Pippa has grown up twins, a boy and a girl and she has a difficult relationship with her war photographer daughter.
At this point the novel reverts to Pippa's childhood and youth. The only daughter in a family of five children, Pippa was adored by her tiny energetic mother, Sukey. Her father was a religious minister who left the child rearing to his wife.
Pippa became sick of being dressed up like a dolly and paraded as an accessory by her fashion conscious mother. She rebelled against her mother, causing distress and heartache to all her family.
Eventually things came a head when Pippa was in her mid-teens and she ran away to live with her mother's decadent sister, Trish. Pippa remains with Trish until an incident occurs which makes her feel she must again run. This time she runs to Phillip, an older man who is an artist and part time drugs dealer. Pippa knows she is safe with Phillip as he goes to great pains to describe his impotence to the teenager.
The plot takes the reader through Pippa drifting through an extreme wild child youth until she meets Herb.
The book again then switches to Pippa and her life in the Marigold Village and her worries about her children and Herb's health.
The novel continues in this vein to a surprising finale.
**My Thoughts and Conclusion**
This was my first experience of Rebecca Miller's work. I chose the book on the basis of the plot synopsis which led me to believe I was in for a reading treat, a novel of the life and times of a successful family. In reality I found this a strange novel, mildly disturbing in parts and definitely not what I was expecting!
The main protagonist, Pippa, came over at first as a gracious, sociable, middle aged lady, devoted to her family. This soon proved to be an unwarranted assumption as the leading lady was a deeply damaged person crying out for acceptance. A childhood marred by an depressed, anorexic, oppressive, Dexedrine addicted mother, a father more concerned by his parishioners and four older brothers who treated their sister with either careless fondness or totally ignored her, had left Pippa an emotional mess.
During Pippa's teens, she dabbled deeply in drugs, lesbian sado-masochistic photo shoots, group sex, theft, partner swapping, to name a few. Her mother tried to rekindle a relationship with Pippa and was rebuffed. Herb had proved to be a pillar of support to Pippa and the pair fell in love despite Herb still being married and Pippa being involve in a four person sexual relationship.
This is a novel built up of many layers; the author has woven a complex yet believable tale of a dysfunctional family. Problems and events from the past are brought to the surface, aired, shaken off and buried again, to be revisited later.
I did not feel this was light reading or even a particularly enjoyable novel, it was however thought provoking and made me wonder about how my own family history might be perceived by outsiders, not that I, or my relatives have indulged in the same type of activities as the lead character of this novel!
The novel is very well written and the plot is an interesting and involved one that keeps the reader turning the pages. It is a family saga of sorts, but unlike many novels of this genre, one that is not afraid to tackle gritty, controversial topics.
I am not sure that I would go out of my way to re-read this or indeed other novels by Rebecca Miller, but I am glad that I read this one.
To conclude, I would recommend this novel to others who like something modern but with a bit of a difference.
Thank you for reading
©brittle1906 April 2013
N.B. My reviews may be found on other sites under the same user name.
I bought this book a few months ago as part of a "any 3 for £5" deal at The Works. I'd never heard of it before and only bought it to make up the three books but it looked interesting, I saw that Richard and Judy had recommended it and it had some positive comments on the back cover from the Guardian and Psychologies.
-What the book is about-
Written by Rebecca Miller, the story is set in America. Pippa is 50 and happily married to Herb Lee, who is 80 years old and owns a successful publishing company. He is retiring from his managerial role with the company. The book starts off with the couple moving into a retirement village and throwing a housewarming party for their old, wealthy friends and elderly neighbours. We soon learn that Pippa is a dutiful housewife who is still in love with her husband despite the large age gap. She has twins with Herb, a son called Ben and a daughter called Grace who are both in their early twenties, who have both left home. Pippa and Herb have a great relationship and their life together seems to be perfect.
However, soon after moving into their new home, strange things start happening. Cigarette butts are found in Pippa's car and dirty plates are left in the kitchen, with neither Herb not Pippa having a clue how they got there. In order to work out how and why this is happening, Pippa has to think hard about her life and how she got to be married to Herb. We soon learn she has not always been the squeaky-clean suburbanite she appears to be now, and her life story is full of scandal, sex, drugs and lies.
I found this book quite easy to read although I wouldn't say it was as 'unputdownable' as works by other authors. It's hard to say what type of book this is. It's not a thriller, it's not chick-lit, but it's somewhere in the middle.
The character of Pippa is quite incredible. She is probably one of the most interesting protagonists ever invented. We are introduced to her as being one thing, but we soon discover she's something quite apart from it. Everything she does is unpredictable and this makes for exciting reading.
Interestingly, the parts of the book set in the present day are told in third-person, and the parts looking back over Pippa's life are told in first-person. I didn't notice this until the end but the switch in narrative gave the book something extra, I think it lent intimacy to the reader's relationship with Pippa. Also, the chapters are not written evenly, some are a dozen pages long, some are only half a page long which gives the book a very organic feel.
The story of Pippa's life is told with absolute brutal honesty. There are parts where you cringe and parts where you laugh out loud. It's written so true to life that you wonder whether this is all based on a true story and real characters. Drug-highs, mother-and-daughter relationships, friendships and human insecurity are so well-observed it's impossible for me to believe all of this could just come out of the imagination of a writer.
On the whole, however, the story itself seemed to be lacking. I liked the ending but I'm not crazy about it. There doesn't seem to be any message to the story. If this were an autobiography it would be amazing but as a novel you feel that there's something missing.
However, I definitely enjoyed reading this book, it's not one I am going to forget in a hurry and I have already started recommending it to my friends.
This was first published in 2008 by Canongate Books Ltd and has 233 pages.
'The Private Lives of Pippa Lee' is a fictional novel by American author (and wife of actor Daniel Day Lewis) Rebecca Miller, and was published in 2008.
The book begins with 50-something Pippa moving into a retirement community Marigold Village with her husband Herb, a successful publisher and a man over 20 years Pippa's senior. Pippa seems to live the perfect life and is decribed by her friends as 'the most spectacular woman' but soon after landing in Marigold Village, she becomes bored and unsettled, finds her herself sleepwalking and 'on the brink of a very quiet nervous breakdown'.
We go back in time as Pippa recounts her turbulent youth and her very complicated relationship with her mother Suky. For me, this was the most interesting part of the book; after discovering Suky's addiction to pills, Pippa's life goes off the rails, as she has an illicit affair with a teacher, moves to New York City to live with her Aunt Trish and her 'dangerous' lover Kat, becomes involved in drugs herself, and eventually is witness to a violent suicide shortly after meeting Herb.
Despite her capacity to ruin the lives of those around her, I liked Pippa and had great sympathy for her, in seeing how her unusual relationship with Suky, translated to her poor relationship with her own daughter Grace.
I really enjoyed Miller's style of writing, her very vivid descriptions, and her dark humour. Especially clever is how she divided the book into 4 parts; Part 1 follows Pippa's move to Marigold Village, Part 2 describes her young life up until starting a family with Herb, Part 3 is back in the present day with Herb, and finally Part 4 shows Pippa moving, with some uncertainty, into an unknown future. Parts 2 and 4 are narrated by Pippa herself whereas Parts 1 and 3 are narrated in the third person; almost as if Pippa wasn't really herself during these times of her life.
Although necessary to the story, I wasn't keen on the character of Chris (another younger resident of Marigold Village). I understand he was meant to be a bit mysterious but I found his moments with Pippa quite dull.
'The Private Lives of Pippa Lee' was overall an enjoyable read and the not the average 'chick-lit' story that the uninspiring book cover suggests. It has recently been made into a movie with a superb cast; Robin Wright Penn and Blake Lively share the role of Pippa, while Winona Ryder, Keanu Reeves, Alan Arkin and Julianne Moore play some of the characters she meets during her chaotic life.
I'd heard of the film and hadn't realised it was based on a book so when I saw this book I was intrigued to read it as the film sounded very good indeed.
I did enjoy this book although it perhaps wasn't as satisfying as I had hoped.
The story centres around Pippa Lee who has just moved into a retirement community with her husband, Herb. She is one of the youngest there as although her husbad is in his 80's she is in her 50's.
This change in the pace and style of their lives seems to be having a deep impact on Pippa - it is clear from the book that prior to this move they were living a wealthy, well-connected and interesting lifestyle in New York and Sag Harbor.
As the story progresses we learn more about her bizarre childhood relationship with her mother and how this influenced her life and also her later relationship with her own daughter.
As we understand more about the many and varied (and sexually explicit) lives of Pippa Lee we understand more about her current situation and her current fears.
She strikes up a friendship with the deadbeat son of another resident and various incidents end in Pippa taking control of her life in a way which has been denied or unwanted by her in a long time.
This is an original book although I found it hard to relate to Pippa and really get involved in her life - so many of the characters seemed to be selfish and unlikeable and I think this made it hard to enjoy the book.
Although we're all taught not to judge a book by its cover, I generally do and decided that this novel looked like suitable holiday reading based on the cover picture and the recommendation from the Richard & Judy Book Club.
Once I started reading the book, I actually stopped after a few pages and had to double-check the front cover and the comments on the back as it certainly didn't seem to be the sort of story that I'd been expecting. The story actually starts with the principal character, Pippa Lee, moving into a retirement village with her eighty year old husband, Herb. This certainly didn't seem the storyline in keeping with the attractive young woman pictured on the cover! I was intrigued where this storyline was taking me and I was optimistic that would be better things to come as, if I'm totally honest, the first couple of chapters were pretty slow going and I was finding it a little hard to engage with characters that were old enough to retire.
The story did faintly hint at some undisclosed aspects of Pippa's life and suggested that she was having some sort of identity crisis with her grown-up twin children, Ben and Grace, having left home and established careers and lives of their own. Pippa, who is thirty years younger than her husband, also seems to be struggling with the adjustment to life in a retirement village and this seems to be showing itself through symptoms such as Pippa finding herself sleepwalking at night and taking up smoking.
The story really starts to get going in Part Two which, interestingly, switches to being told in the first person (rather than the third person) and literally goes back to the very beginning of Pippa's story - going back to Pippa's childhood and concentrating on Pippa's very bizarre relationship with her own mother. It later transpires that Pippa's mother is addicted to a form of speed and this revelation has a major impact on Pippa and her teenage years. I can't really go any further into the details on the story because most of the appeal of the story for me was the total contrast between the image of a respectable wife and mother as set out in the opening part of the story and the rebellious, often outrageous teenager depicted in the second part. There are scenes that are quite shocking and some explicit sexual acts and behaviour are depicted so anybody lulled into a false sense of security by the setting of the opening chapters might be in for a surprise by some of the highly sexual content later in the book.
Towards the end of the novel, the setting reverts back to the third person and takes us back to the present day again highlighting the contrast between the Pippa of her youth and the woman who has almost set aside her own identity to play the role of loyal wife and mother. There are further twists and turns within the book that build up to an ending that is both sad but positive at the same time.
The book focuses on Pippa and the way in which her behaviour and attitudes are shaped by those around her but I think there was a missed opportunity for the book to explore the relationship between Pippa and her daughter Grace in greater depth as mother-daughter relationships were a consistent theme throughout the book.
One of the quotes on the inside cover, from the Sunday Independent, says 'Although it had come to a natural and perfectly timed conclusion, I could happily have read much more about Pippa Lee and her secret lives.' This sums up exactly how I felt after finishing the story. The ending was very successfully done with questions answered and issues resolved but there was enough left to leave me wondering how the rest of Pippa's life would unfold, particularly given her ability to adapt her personality in accordance to her circumstances.
This is probably not my typical sort of holiday read and the opening chapters are a little hard going, as they give little indication of the complex nature of Pippa's life and history, but they lead on to a really unique and fascinating story with a particularly fascinating leading lady.
Copies available on Amazon from 1p plus delivery.
>>>The Private Lives of Pippa Lee - Rebecca Miller <<<
This is not a book i would normally buy but there was an offer on bookpeople? Where you could get 5 Richard and Judy books for £10.There was only 4 i wanted so there being no other books i wanted i got this.
Since this was an author i had never heard off i was a little unsure what to expect.
As you can tell by the title the book talks about the life of Pippa Lee.It actually starts off when she is older and then goes back in time. I found the beginning of the book quite hard to get into but i am glad i stuck with it as it gets better when it starts talking about Pippa when she was younger(the things she got up to!!:())
The book is split into different parts.The first is the present day and she and her husband have just moved into a retirement village(she is 50,he is 80)This bit of the book is boring.
The 2nd part of the book is where the excitement happens. The best part of the book in my opinion.
It then goes back to the present day. Without spoiling this book i have to say the ending was boring and rather predictable.
I paid £2 for this and i am glad i did not pay anymore. It was okay,not great and i wont be keeping it to re-read.
I first found out about this book through the Richard and Judy summer book club. I bought it on the off chance that it would be a good read and for me, it definately was. I started it 4 days ago and hardly ever put it down.
It was a slow start but once the narrator started to delve into her past it made it more interesting and readable. I liked that it was seperated into different sections, making it easier to understand the fact that the tense had changed. Slightly confusing bits in the middle where all her memories started to spill out at once, one minute Pippa was doing one thing and the next she was elsewhere so I had to re-read a few bits. The pace was slightly too fast here.
The ending to me, was rather predictable (the very ending that is, not the beginning of the last section). I think she could have rounded it off a bit better but it was still a really good read. I'd recommend it as a holiday book as you can easily get through it during a break.
I had not heard of Rebecca Miller before and was given this book - The Private Lives of Pippa Lee - by a colleague after she had seen it on the Richard and Judy Summer read list. Therefore I did not really know what to expect when I started this book.
It was quite a strange read as it fairly meanders along for about the first fifty pages. We meet Pippa Lee who is aged about fifty and has just moved into a retirement village with her eighty year old husband Herb. At first things feel quite settled although some odd occurrences start to happen and she begins to wonder whether she might be starting to lose her mind. All of this is told in a fairly gentle leisurely manner though and you could be forgiven for wondering where it all might be heading.
However about fifty pages in all of this changes and you feel as if all of a sudden you are in the middle of an entirely different story. This story is told by Pippa and is written in the first person charting her early life right from the time she was born until she met Herb. This part of the book is really surprising as you learn things about Pippa that you would never have guessed of her at the beginning of the novel. There is a lot of graphic sexual activity described in quite a lot of detail. This is so unexpected and you could almost think that the printers had mistakenly inserted a soft porn novel by mistake!
The third part of the novel takes you back to the present but of course by now you cannot look at Pippa in the same light again but she still does not seem to resemble the other Pippa we met in the middle. The story seems to start meandering again although it does head towatds a few twists and surprises towarsd the end.
It was a strange read and although part of me enjoyed the story, I was left wondering what the point of it all was. The different parts of the story did not really seem to gel which made it feel a bit disjointed to me. There are some poignant moments though especially as one of the underlying themes in the book is that of difficult mother and daughter relationships. Pippa had a very difficult relationship with her own mother and seems to suffer similar difficulties with her daughter Grace.
There are an interesting range of characters in the book - Pippa, Herb, their children Ben and Grace, as well as a wide assortment of friends and neighbours. I didn't feel that you really got to know any of them very well though and as a consequence I really couldn't care less about them. I felt that this was particularly disappointing with Pippa because she was a complex character and as she was who the novel was about you did really want to care more!
I suppose it was apt then that the novel was 'the private lives of Pippa Lee' because it does make you feel that you weren't likely to get to know her. It was almost as though she had at least two different lives (if not more) and you were only ever going to know what she allowed you to! Also at the end you are not really sure who the real Pippa Lee is - wild child or suburban housewife?
It is a novel that will make you think though and touches on a few difficult themes. There is the way that people view the ageing process and Herb, at age eighty, has firm ideas about how he wants to live the rest of his life. There are also aspects of mental illness which affect different characters in different ways. It also demonstrates that often it's how we view people which influences how they behave to us.
I think that on reflection I am pleased I read this book as it is quite different from most books I read. It made me think but it also left me a little confused and wishing that it had maybe just gone a little further than it actually did. It's only 230 pages long (and quite a few of those are actually blank!) so it's really quite short. I often read books which I think are far too long but with this one I actually wished that maybe it had been a little longer thus allowing me to get to know this complex character a little better!
At the moment the paperback version of the novel can be found on Amazon for only £3.99.
A slow start almost made me leave the novel unfinished. It took me a while to get into the story, perhaps it needed something a little more exciting at the beginning than moving into a retirement community. However, once the novel got underway it became much more readable and enjoyable. Looking at the actors/actresses listed for the film, I can see how the film will be very successful as Miller's novel can be easily adapted for screen; in fact I think the visual imagery will be more beneficial than the printed word in this case.
I'm unsure as to why the novel has 'private' in the title; there is nothing about Pippa's life that is kept private. The main characters within in her life know all about the things she got up to. This confused me. Pippa thinks she is on the verge of a nervous breakdown and begins to reflect on her life. The dust jacket talks about a story of wild youth - this is quite mild, it's openly sexual and covering lots of different tastes. Not too sure what else to say about this except I won't be recommending it to my mother!! Her reflection looks at betrayal - some done to her and many caused by her. As a disturbed youngster Pippa ruined herself and many a life along the path to the retirement community she regrets moving in to.
The titles of the chapters flow with the mood swings of Pippa, as if they are often after-thoughts she experiences during her impending breakdown. Towards the end of the novel Pippa sees her future more clearly than she ever did throughout her earlier life and it was this Pippa I enjoyed reading about. It is a good plot, the characters are difficult to emphathise with and I don't feel that the novel lives up to the hype on the dust jacket but I am pleased I have read it. If someone is looking for a simple holiday read I'd suggest this.
Since the synopsis of the story has already been laid out in a previous review, I will go straight to my opinion of this book, which isn't very high. I did not like the character of Pippa, nor any of the characters surrounding her. I thought the layout of the novel amateurish. I found her visions of motherhood sickening, and instances such as her mother being scared of her and running down the hallway in terror leaving bloodied footsteps seemed quite a reach to me. How often has that happened in real life? Most of this book was unbelievable to me--yet there seemed a curious match between some of the sick adventures recorded that were in sync with the degenerate undercurrent of the entire story, and I wondered if this was somewhat autobiographical. If this is supposed to be a portrait of a woman, it is one who is out of touch with reality and whose appetites and practices as a young woman leave little wonder why Pippa is the loser she is as an adult, no matter how grand a face she presents. I had little sympathy for her when the "for better for worse" vow she made to a man thirty years her senior to obtain some sort of security backfires in her face and she has to move to a retirement village with him. ("A preempative strike against decreptitude?" With someone already age 80, isn't that a little after the fact?) It represents what is worst about women and I felt it was more like wallowing in a dirty pond than providing any real enjoyment or insight into a truly unusual or rare woman. Pippa wasn't rare, she was degenerate. This book reminds me of something written by a spoiled college girl who has lived wild and hard and watches from a private world of sarcasm and condescension except when it suits her to be otherwise. At the end of Pippa's saga, there was one large question looming on my horizon: Who cares?
After reading my first Richard and Judy Summer Read of 2008 and really enjoying it,I reserved another few from the list at my local library as I find books far too expensive to buy these days! Finally, I got an email telling me that this book, The Private Lives of Pippa Lee was ready for collection, and I eagerly started it that evening. I was hopeful that Richard and Judy had picked another good book, and again I wasn't disappointed!
Pippa Lee is 50 year old woman happily married to 80 year old husband Herb. The pair have grown-up twins Ben and Grace, and to an outsider, Pippa appears to have it all. But after moving into the local retirement village with Herb, Pippa's life begins to unravel, and she begins to question her life and the choices she's made. Does she regret the past decisions and how her life has turned out? And is it what she really wants?
When I first started reading the book, I found that the writing was pleasant enough to read and interesting, but I was struggling to see where the story was actually going. It didn't appear to have a set direction, it was just happily going along telling us about Pippa and Herb's happy marriage, and some weird goings-on in the night. But after 50 or so pages, the present day in the book suddenly came to an abrupt end, and I realised that the book was set into parts, giving me somewhat of an idea how this book was going to go.
Part 2 was much more interesting than part one, and immediately drew me straight in. Part 2 was all about Pippa's past life, and I realised that the book was going to be a life story of Pippa Lee, and how she came to be married to a man 30 years her senior, and why she is like she is. What I liked about part 2 was the natural style of writing, and how much more it endeared us as the reader to the character of Pippa. It is written in the first person from Pippa's memories, so it is much more personal and enjoyable to read. The chapters varied from just half a page long to several pages, and this was interesting. It was like as she remembered things, they appeared in the book either as a big chunk of writing or short notes.
Part 2 lasted considerably longer, and introduced us to many themes such as drugs, sex, and some dark family secrets. There were a few areas where I found it uncomfortable to read because of the nature of what was being written but it didn't affect my overall enjoyment of the book too much because the rest was very good. Part 3 again brings us back to the present day, and things are a lot clearer after reading Pippa's past. Pippa is a very likeable character in herself, a loving wife, confused mother and troubled soul. You can see why Pippa is upset over things that happened in part 1 which seemed strange, and this gives Pippa a much more human feel, and I felt I liked her much more as the book went on.
The other characters in the book just come and go, and aren't in the book for long periods of time in the book, leaving the majority of focus on Pippa herself. Her husband Herb is in the whole book, parts 1-4 but I still felt that I didn't know him properly after the book, and therefore I felt a bit indifferent towards him. Pippa's children Grace and Ben pop up occasionally, and again hint towards Pippa's troubled past at the way she is with them. Moira and Sam, friends of Pippa and Herb's are again present throughout the book but aren't really major characters. Miller has really created an eclectic group of people who wouldn't normally be together or friends, yet are united through blood and love, which makes this very interesting.
The book has a somewhat dark feel to it, with some serious themes and issues covered, some which may be uncomfortable reading for some people. Although these can be touchy subjects, Miller has done a fantastic job of writing them in a believable way, so much so that you can see why Pippa chose the routes that she did, however horrible they were. The different writing styles for the parts allowed the reader to easily differentiate the sections, and also helped Pippa develop and for the reader to fully grasp her as a person too. Parts 1,3 and 4 are all written in the third person, but it is part 2 in the first person which was the most enjoyable reading for me, and probably the best written part of the book. It was a very interesting book, not something I'd normally choose but I really did enjoy it. It was a real journey into one woman's life, and shows us how a few decisions made when we are young can shape the rest of your life, a quite thought-provoking revelation! It has a good pace to it, carefully skimming through Pippa's life picking up on the main events wrapped up in a very well-written plot. It's an intriguing glance into age-gap marriage, families, love and life, and is definitely recommended by myself.
This book is Rebecca Miller's debut novel, and she is the daughter of playwright Arthur Miller, and wife of Hollywood star Daniel Day-Lewis. ISBN: 978-1847672490. Published by Canongate Books in June 2008. The paperback contains 240 pages and is on Amazon at the moment for £3.86.
For more information on the other Richard and Judy Summer Reads, visit their website at www.richardandjudybookclub.co.uk.
Thank you for reading.